On occasion, you attend a concert that is such an overall amazing experience that it almost throws you for a loop, because even though you know it’s going to be great when you’re walking into the venue, you still aren’t prepared for how great. That was my experience last night (Saturday, Nov. 30) at the House of Blues in Boston. The headliner was Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls, the openers Koo Koo Kanga Roo and The Smith Street Band. And it was an incredible night.
I first saw Frank Turner as a solo act in 2010, when he opened for Flogging Molly at the same venue. That show was outrageous — the energy was off the charts, the crowd was ridiculously into it, and Frank Turner and Flogging Molly filled the room with so much presence that I was absolutely blown away. I’d never heard of Turner before that night, but I talked to him after the show and bought a couple of his albums and ever since, I’ve been telling everyone I know to listen to this artist. I put his songs on mixed CDs and quote his lyrics in my fiction. Without my really being aware of it, Frank Turner has become an artist that I am incredibly fond of — both for his talent and for his apparently genuine kindness, for the fact that he is essentially a music socialist. (He said at last night’s show, multiple times, that music was a “communal experience” and that everyone — the audience, the crew, the musicians, everyone — was involved in its creation.)
Turner said at one point in his set that he had known for the entirety of the US tour — 40 dates in all — that Boston would be a special night. He’s tweeted since that he was correct in predicting that Boston would win the tour. And there were several things that happened last night that make me believe him, wholeheartedly. A “tour flag” that showed up in Ohio two months ago made its way — without the help of the band or crew — to every single show, including Boston. Turner dedicated “I Knew Prufrock Before He Was Famous” to the Dropkick Murphys, whom he feels “introduced him” to Boston and the fans he has there. Later, he played “Dirty Water” with members of the band (a huge and incredible surprise for the crowd) as part of the encore. The crowd screamed the lyrics to almost every single song, participated full-tilt, and made the night get better and better and better as the show went on.
Despite an injured back that prevented Turner from playing his acoustic guitar, he still ran around the stage and danced and sang and jumped around and brought the room to its fucking knees. The thing about Frank Turner when he plays live is that he’s a really powerful performer. Vocals that make my chest feel tight on his recordings sound even more amazing live, and his band matches him second for second in energy level and dedication. His entire set was wrought with emotion and energy and genuine joy, and it was fantastic to behold. I felt genuinely happy the entire time I was at the House of Blues (which isn’t uncommon, necessarily, but I was extremely aware of it last night, because it marked the end of an awful week and ended up being the perfect reward for working so hard).
But the first glimpse we caught of Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls wasn’t when the band walked onstage for its set — it was when all of them, as well as some members of The Smith Street Band, joined the first opener for its final song. That first opener was Koo Koo Kanga Roo, and when the band walked onstage, I had no idea what was about to happen. The band — who I jokingly commented was like a preschool-tailored version of 3OH!3 — sang songs about cutting the crusts off of PB&J, unicorns being real, rainbows being awesome, and dinosaurs. Koo Koo Kanga Roo consists of two members whose synchronized dance moves are better than most boy bands I know, and although it was really apparent that no one in the crowd quite knew what to do with these guys, no one booed. No one told them to get off the stage. No one threw anything.
Apparently, Koo Koo Kanga Roo had been booed at more than one date on this tour, and that makes me incredibly sad. They were fun. They were hilarious. And they opened a punk show without any qualms about being silly and childish and funny. They made fun of themselves, told people they were allowed to boo, convinced the whole pit to sit down with them and then dance a jacked-up version of “The Hokey Pokey”. They tossed a parachute into the crowd during the last song — the one about rainbows, which also featured Frank Turner and co. dancing and yelling about colors — and got a room full of adults to have some silly fun. During the Sleeping Souls set, Turner revealed that he’d gotten a tattoo of a kangaroo with a unicorn horn backstage while he waited to go on, to commemorate the tour. I’m just a little bit in love with this whole conglomeration of men, to be totally honest with you…
Following Koo Koo Kanga Roo, The Smith Street Band (from Australia — I’m seeing a theme, maybe?) took the stage and played an awesome set. It was high energy and outrageously positive. Their lyrics reminded me quite a lot of Turner himself, which seemed fitting, and when the lead singer explained that the band had written a new song called “Don’t Fuck With Our Dreams” in response to a shithead at an Australian show pretty severely injuring one of their good friends, I was really impressed. He said the incident made the band not want to play music for quite a while, because of the kind of violence that can take place at shows — but the band continued, and turned the incident into as much of a positive experience as they could, and that’s awesome. Given how much discussion there has been of safe spaces in the punk sphere lately, it was a bit surreal to see someone address those issues so explicitly during a show. Surreal, but important.
I think this show will be one that I list, from this point on, when people ask about “the best concerts I’ve ever seen”. That means Frank Turner is on the list twice, because the 2010 Flogging Molly show still blows my mind when I think about it. I hope Turner and his band come back to the States soon, so that I can see them again, because I’m even more fond now than I was yesterday. I suspect that fondness will only continue to grow.